Laying pipe?
May 8, 2011 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I just got on a waiting list for apprenticeships in a local trade union. Should I be celebrating?

So I just got out of school in Toronto with a Gas Fitter ticket and a diploma as an HVAC technician. I had to go back to school at age forty when my previous career as a field service technician went kaput. HVAC seemed like a pretty safe choice, although I have had difficulty landing a job thus far.

I learned through one company that the Plumbing and Steamfitters' union was accepting applicants for apprenticeships. My instructors strongly encouraged me to apply, especially as they were taking on 50-80 apprentices. I applied as a Steamfitter as it was more closely related to HVAC, in particular the heating component of the industry.

So I did the application, then made it to the aptitude test, and then a final interview. Last week I finally got a letter saying I had made the intake list, but due to changes in the economic forecast they have decided not to take on apprentices for the time being. The union reps won't tell me where I am on the list, or how many made the list.

On the one hand, I showed the letter to a plumbing student who was a member of the same local, and he said that I was basically in, and that my prospects were very good given my having a Gas Fitter ticket in addition to having made it through the application process. On the other hand, I talked to the company who told me about the union in the first place, and I was told that the industry locally was in a severe state of flux due to the economy and increased competition from non-union companies. Though he did not say so directly, my understanding from the manager at the company was "don't get your hopes up."

I can not get information on other union-member companies, as the union does not give that information out. I also can not get more info from the plumbing student, as the course he was in ended last Friday, and classes have adjourned for the next few weeks. Meanwhile I am still looking for work. I have enough in savings and part-time income to get me through the next few months, but I don't exactly thrive on economic uncertainty.

My main question is: what now? How much faith can I put in my getting a position in the union in the next few months? Also, if I do get a call to start an apprenticeship, is it worth putting whatever work I might land in the near future for this opportunity?

And on a side-note: what can I expect if I do get in the union? All of my work experiences have been commercially based, and I do not know anyone else who works in trade unions. Any advice? Any warnings?
posted by spoobnooble to Work & Money (2 answers total)
Well, this is all second hand story, but, two sides to the trade union issue in Toronto:

A friend of mine is doing her apprenticeship as an industrial electrician, and given the way the job lists work, she ends up working for varying amounts of time -- sometimes a few weeks, sometimes a few months -- and then she's unemployed again, sometimes for months and months at a time. It's been very unstable for her.

On the other hand, the condo building I just moved into was delayed for months and months because they simply could not get enough masons on site to do the brickwork.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:40 PM on May 8, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, that's one of the points that gets lost about the trades: they're seasonal, and the work is not usually constant. HVAC work, for instance, is based around the start of the cooling and heating seasons, and layoffs between seasons are common. Steamfitting, like many of the construction-based trades, depends on how many projects are on the go at a given time. The lack of masons working on your condo, I would suspect, might be a case of too many simultaneous projects. And hiring more masons might be risky if the construction boom falls off.

One of my instructors has a friend with a son who was in my position four years ago: graduated in HVAC with a GII, applied to the Steamfitters union. I was told that he's now working in the trade pretty much year round. But talking to that rep from the one company, I'm wondering how much work there really is in the field right now. And it's hard doing research in the field when you can't track down the companies that hire from the union.

All I can do right now is continue my job search and see if I get a call back. For all I know this might be the end of the story.
posted by spoobnooble at 4:51 AM on May 9, 2011

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